(Remember, it's January of 2013. Gangnam style is still a thing. History!)
Book 5, 46: A Temple, a Sword, Then We Hit Red Robins?
Charlotte rode up to the door of the mountain shrine and swung off Tellus’ back, and tried the big old latch on the copper-coloured, metal door.
It was locked, natch.
Now what? There wasn’t even a doorbell. Or a big old gong to beat, which seemed more appropriate. All she had to go on now was movies, and in a movie, this was the point where the weird hermit you’d just met suddenly turned out to be the high priest or whatever.
She looked around, just in case someone they’d already met suddenly popped up with a key. But, no, real life wasn’t that convenient. So she knocked.
Nothing happened. Then, Bruce stepped up beside her, and said, “Friend.”
Nothing happened. He cleared his throat. “Melon.” Pause. “Didn’t think so.”
Charlotte looked at him. “What was all that about?”
Bruce looked embarrassed. “It’s the password to the gate of Moria in the first Lord of the Rings movies.” He shrugged. “Movies are all I had to go on.”
“Me, too,” Charlotte admitted. “I was looking for a big gong.” And the fact that she and Bruce were on the same wavelength, and that they were standing right there, so close, and that they were facing each other, like they were about to kiss, even though they were wearing face masks, and she wasn’t actually sure how that would work, probably wasn’t anything in the Sweet Valley High books about it at all,, but. . And, oh God, Bruce was leaning in, like . . . Right in front of everybody, and she really shouldn’t, it was totally out of character, what would her Aunt say, but . . .
Twelve wedged himself between them, and Charlotte could have sworn that the old-comic-cover space helmet muffled whinny from her horse didn’t just sound like laughing. “Let’s get on with this,” he said, and then plunged his fingers into the tight-fitting edges where the metal doors came together.
It must be nice, Charlotte thought, to have the strength of an Empyrean, as metal bonged and boomed in protest under Twelve’s powerful hands. When he’d wedged his fingers in enough, he pulled, and the doors snapped open.
“Smart kids like you two should know better than to put such misplaced reverence in the physical manifestations of religion. They’re just embodiments of the exploitation of the labouring classes.”
The team swept into the interior of the shrine. It was beautiful, in a plain, polished-boards and furniture kind of way, and you hardly realised how ornate it actually was unless you’d snuck into Mr. Vezina’s woodworking shop behind his trailer a few times to hang out with your brother when the rest of life just sucked too much.
Charlotte wondered how her brother’s trip to the Thirty-First Century was going, then shook her head. Focus on the job at hand, girl, she thought. Like, for example, the very familiar sword that was somehow standing in mid-air in front of the wooden altar, in the middle of a beam of light that, in a movie, would signify some kind of blocking force field or maybe a hologram.
That would suck.
A helmet touched Charlotte’s. “Were you going to kiss him? It totally looked like you two were going to kiss?” Count on Dora to be focussed on the important stuff.
Charlotte felt her eyes drop, even though she wasn’t looking at anyone. “I think so.” Then, over coms so everyone could hear, “Can we get Auralia out of there? Ideas?”
Dora, again, and a golden beam lanced out from her hand to illuminate Auralia. “Oh, sure. I’ve had months to talk about this with more superheroes than Wolverine teams up with in a month. I got the needfire, I’ve got spells from three different disciplines, I’ve got the one gadget my sister’s in the last three months that’s gotten out of beta. Sword. Anchored. I can teleport it to me, No-one can teleport it away. Not in time, not in space, not in space-time, or, as we shippers call it, spatim.”
“I’d go with spate, myself,” Rose said.
“You can call it what you like, girl, when you’ve been shipping space and time for as long as I have. Which, pro-tip, is since the beginning of the universe, so don’t even try.” Dora paused, dramatically. “And that is how we do.”
“Time travel doesn’t count,” Rose said. “Besides, it could be the end of the universe, too. Nice work, though.”
“So, can you pull it out of there?” Charlotte asked.
“Well, sure. But I assume that as soon as I do, Professor Paradigm, or Kilbern, or both, will show up, and Bruce asked for a bit of time, for a plan he’s working on with the Fourth Sword.”
“I’m sorry?” Agent Kilbern said.
“What, too meta for you?” Dora asked.
Chaos Girl appeared out of the dark, left-hand corner of the shrine. “We were going to wait until you actually had your hands on the sword, but not if you’re going to lay shade on my favourite teacher. Nothing is too meta for Mr. Burcato.”
Behind her, Professor Paradigm loomed out of the shadow. He was wearing his weird, alieny-alternate-dimension-Steve-Ditko’s-lawyers-are-on-the-phone battlesuit, and the dangly loops that glowed with unknown colours were glowing with angry-looking colours no-one had ever seen before. They kind of went with his face. You know, Charlotte thought, because he was super-pissed at Madison?
Without a word, Twelve bowled right into Professor Paradigm, so fast that they went right through the wall, big old beams splintering like, well, splinters.
Mario was next out of the corner after the Professor, following right after Twelve, then Eve. It was nice of Twelve, after his comments, that he was taking the fight outside, because, otherwise, they would have brought the roof down on themselves with the first moves of the climactic fight.
Also, thank Heavens, still no sign of the grown-up members of the Paradigm Pirates. At some point, Charlotte felt, Burcato must just be jealous of them, especially Tesseract. Heaven help the world if he ever tried using her powers.
With the fight headed outside, Charlotte made sure to bound besides Bruce, gripped his hand –it felt so good—, tight beamed him. “So what’s the plan?”
“Double down,” he answered. “The Fourth Sword is using his autopilot to bring his ship back. I’m guessing the Beadle-Prodomus’ll be useless, but the Second and Sixth Swords should give us the edge,”
Until Kilbern showed up, but Charlotte had been thinking enough about that that she knew she had to trust that Bruce had come up with a plan with some serious layers. Good leaders delegate, Uncle Henry said.
While good fighters dodge when they get that prickle, Charlotte thought, letting go of Bruce’s hand so very reluctantly and springing to the left across the high mountain vale, as he broke to the right, just in time for a chaos blast to singe a bunch of delicate, almost, stalky, almost blossomy-lichen between them.
Charlotte whirled, sword in hand, but her stallion was there, flashing hooves pounding against Maddie’s shields.
Good thing she’d armed and turned, though, because that way Eve didn’t spit her. Hundreds of hours of practice paid off, as Charlotte moved into a White Crane Flies Home manoeuvre, so smoothly that she would probably have avoided a thumping from Uncle Henry’s staff, never mind Eve’s spear.
Of course, Eve had been practicing, too, and Snake on Branch didn’t spit her, either, saving Charlotte the need to pull her thrust back at the last minute. Instead, they locked weapons, held, as Charlotte summoned Eight Spirit Dragon power to aid her strength, and made sure that she had some leverage against Eve’s overbearing strength.
Eve’s eyes glinted, and she took one hand off her spear to blow powder in Charlotte’s face.
“Yeah, been there, done that,” Charlotte said, trusting to the wards that she’d been carrying now since the class’ last session with Miss Grey.
Fortunately, they worked, and Charlotte could focus on further improving her Earthquake stance. Uncle Henry said that she’d have the advantage against the average Empyrean, but Even wasn’t exactly average.
No, she wasn’t. Her eyes flashed anger, and she bunched her muscles, and pushed, throwing the Pearl Harmony Sword off her spear with enough force to send an unbalanced Charlotte, caught in Earthquake pose, flying.
Of course, Charlotte wasn’t in a Chung Wah style any more, so she didn't fly, but rather, slipped under the guard. Uncle Henry said: if you have a sword, use a sword; and sweep the feet. For Uncle Henry, it was almost not kung fu if it didn’t aim at the enemy’s mistaken stance.
And so, a slide, a kick, and Eve was falling, her spear flying through the air like a girl whose memories were shaped by years of being a person who could fall down. That’s why it took her a moment to switch on her gravity-bending flight powers and lift off the ground, and you could almost feel Bruce’s frustration that it took her so long to set herself up for his entanglement round.
Stepping past a helpless, thoroughly tied-up, floating Eve, Charlotte rapped Chaos Girl firmly on the head. She folded like a bored American Apparel salesgirl.
Charlotte whirled. By now, everything had gone so well that she was ready to see Twelve, Dora, the Fourth Sword and Agent Ayre getting their butts handed to them by Professor Paradigm and Mario.
But, no, they weren’t. Twelve was wielding glowing, golden, shield and sword against Mario, with Dora standing behind him and shouting encouragement. So romantic, Charlotte thought. She wasn’t super-confident that Dora could ward off an attack that came at her around her boyfriend, but Dora was sure she could pull this off, and Charlotte had swallowed her doubts.
As for Paradigm, he was, of course, a flickering lantern of lighting effects, beams of this, that and another colour reaching out to spear his sparring partners. This was the part that had had Charlotte really worried. It wasn’t as though she and Bruce had had more than a few minutes to brief them on Paradigm’s fighting styles, and the concern always was that he’d managed to learn to do some more of the classic combat spells. Even the rest of the Lights of Luathon would be a handful-and-a-half.
But, no, Professor Paradigm didn’t seem to be any more prepped for this fight than his students. Agent Ayre had pulled sunglasses out of somewhere against the dazzle attacks Paradigm wasn't even pulling, and was laying down pulson blasts that were landing around all around the armour-suited science-magician, while the Fourth Sword was in his face with the same kind of athletic, gravity-defying bounces that made Charlotte’s Cousin Amy such a tough fight.
Though he was probably using Old World technology, and not “weaving moonbeams,” as Amy helpfully described her methods for the non-psychically gifted.
Charlotte stepped a little closer to the fight, put the Pearl Harmony Sword over her shoulder like it was some kind of oversized videogame feature, put her hand to her phone and played a whistle effect at loudest volume.
In the thin, mountain air of the highest heights of the Old World, it was nothing very much, but Paradigm pulled his hands back around his chest, shot twenty feet up in the air, and a shield appeared around him.
Charlotte looked up. Wow, the sky is so black, she thought. You could see stars, the Moon, was that Mars? Focus, she thought. “You’re a lousy teacher, Phil,” Charlotte said, trying, not very successfully, not to flush with embarrassment at calling a teacher by his first name. “Don’t you make your students study at all? We’ve been prepping for the rematch for weeks.” She decided not to mention Tesseract. No point in giving the super-genius madman mastermind pointers.
He glowered down at her. “You’ll regret this, Miss Wong.” And vanished. Not surprisingly, so did his students, leaving the Tattamy High Grade Nine Special Law Enforcement and Emergency Response Co-op class, and their allies, in possession of the field, and the magic sword they’d been searching for, for so long. Except. . .
“Well,” Rose said, “That was anticlimactic.”
“Yeah,” Charlotte said. “Somehow, I think that’s because it wasn’t the climax.”
“Tell me about it,” Bruce said. “Our reinforcements haven’t even arrived yet. The Second Sword is going to be pissed if she doesn’t get her ‘Look for me on the third day’ moment.” Bruce blushed at that. “What, it’s another Lord of the Rings reference. I know I’m not the only one around here who’s seen those movies!”
“Quiet, boy,” The Fourth Sword said, ”Your adult minder is gone.”
And it was true. Agent Ayre had, somehow, disappeared.